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New Hospitality & Tourism Academy at GRPS fits with the business community’s emphasis on developing workforce talent in West MI

November 25, 2019

Below is a video statement from the group Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ) that addresses one of the new GRPS Academies, specifically the Hospitality & Tourism Academy.

By submitting a FOIA, the GREJ was able to obtain an overview of the Hospitality & Tourism class that will be offered through the Grand Rapids Public Schools. You can go to this link to read the overview of the class, as well as objectives and learning outcomes. 

This is just one of the Academies that the GRPS is offering, along with media and one that will introduce students to law enforcement and the military.

These types of courses are being crafted to fill, what those in the Neo-Liberal Education model refer to as “the talent gap.” In recent years there has been a much bigger push within the business community to try to influence and work with the education system to provide information and training to students that will provide employers with a larger pool of workers to fill positions in various industries.

There are numerous business groups that have been working with the Grand Rapids Public Schools to introduce and develop more and more classes that prepare students to enter the workforce. There are groups like Talent 2025, which is made up of CEOs from West Michigan who are wanting to till the talent gap. 

There is also the West Michigan Policy Forum, a group that is made up the most influential and powerful business and business leaders in the area. They push for state policy changes on many areas and one of those areas is education reform or as they say Talent. The West Michigan Policy Forum wants to

• Encourage the development of consistent K-12 and higher education metrics

• Expansion of college credits for work experience

• Require funding for state economic development and workforce agencies to align more closely with private sector efforts in talent development initiative

• Reform of Teacher Evaluation

Another group is Believe 2 Become, which was created by funding from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation. Believe 2 Become produced a report in 2017 called, Workforce Opportunity in West Michigan: Connecting A Qualified Workforce to High-Growth Opportunities

The video statement from GREJ challenges the notion that students are merely talent and that education should first and foremost provide students with robust critical thinking skills, as well as how to be civically engaged in the world.

Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute’s Rev. Sirico says he is “impressed” by the depth of Kanye West’s recent conversion, but hope he “gets the right people around him”

November 25, 2019

It is rather instructive how mainstream corporate news media chastised Kanye West in 2005 for his critical comments about President Bush’s failed response to hurricane Katrina, but now, when West is praising President Trump and embracing religion, he is now someone with depth.

This was certainly the tone that the Acton Institute founder, Rev. Robert Sirico, took while being interviewed on Fox News a week ago Sunday. In a five and a half minute interview on Fox News, Rev. Sirico made some very instructive comments about Kanye West and the context of West being at pastor Joel Osteen’s mega-church.

The Fox commentator asked Rev. Sirico if Kanye West’s conversion was encouraging. Rev. Sirico said that he was encouraged because he felt Kanye’s conversion had some depth, but then went on to say he was concerned that the singer had appeared with Joel Osteen.

Osteen preaches a prosperity gospel, where those with wealth are seen as being blessed by God. The prosperity gospel is in many ways a more recent manifestation of Calvinist teachings, plus Osteen and those who embrace this brand of religion are staunch defenders of capitalism. Being that the prosperity gospel movement celebrates wealth and capitalism, one would think that the Acton Institute’s founder would be a fan, especially since the Acton Institute is essentially an apologist for religion and the free market.

Rev. Siroco continues by saying that he is “impressed” with Kanye West’s intellect and seriousness, but then follows those comments up right away by stating that he hopes that West will, “get the right people around him.” Sirico doesn’t qualify what he means by that, except to say that what he finds wrong with the culture today – the materialism, over-sexualization and disrespect for the dignity of life. Again, Rev. Sirico is rather vague on what he means by materialism and disrespect for the dignity of life, but such comments are rather confusing or contradictory when the founder of the Acton Institute praises the like of Betsy DeVos and Erik Prince, siblings that swim in materialism and don’t respect the dignity of people of color or non-christians.

Rev. Sirico then talks about people having deep conversions, like St. Paul and Dorothy Day. Now Dorothy Day was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, which preached a simple life, non-violence and the evils of capitalism. It is interesting that Sirico would name Day as an example of miraculous conversion, since she would be in complete opposition to what Rev. Sirico and the Acton Institute are about.

The Acton founder then is asks if this demonstration of faith by West is the “start of something else?” Sirico again gushes with praise over the reaction to Kanye West’s album and the potential it has to reach people who have rejected faith. However, Sirico qualifies is comments by saying that the conversion needs to be rooted in depth and authenticity. It seems that Sirico is providing himself an out, in case the converted Kanye West doesn’t live up to the kind of person of faith that Rev. Sirico considers to have depth and authenticity, such as the Betsy DeVos and Erik Prince (Sirico presided over Erik Prince’s marriage).

In addition, Rev. Sirico’s qualifying comments about Kanye West’s conversion further demonstrates his embrace of white supremacy. Sirico would never question the sincerity or authenticity of white people’s faith. Take for instance the members of the Board of Directors at the Acton Institute. It is not surprising that the Acton Institute’s board is made up of a bunch of white, wealthy christians, christians whose faith is not questioned, nor does it come with qualifiers about authenticity or calls for these people to surround themselves with the right people. (right people is code for white people) 

FOIA document shows that the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation paid $243,000 for the GRPS to get services from businesses that are part of the war on Public Education in 2017

November 13, 2019

Recently, the group Grand Rapids for Education Justice, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with the Grand Rapids Public Schools to get information on several issues.

One issue that the GREJ was interested in was funding, specifically funding that comes from either the business community or area foundations. You can see the entire document at this link

However, there was one example that stood out in this FOIA’d document. The Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation contributed $243,000 to pay for the services of three separate entities that do “research.” The three organization, with the amount they received are: Cambridge Education $80,000, Basis Policy Research $90,000 and Tripod Surveys $72,150. In addition, the remaining $850 could be used by the GRPS at their discretion.

Cambridge Education

According to a 2011 MLive article, “Cambridge is affiliated with Mott MacDonald, an employee-owned management, engineering and development consultancy serving the public and private sector around the world based in the United Kingdom.” 

This is not the first time that the DeVos family has paid for Cambridge Education to come to Grand Rapids and influence what happens at the GRPS. In an article from Jack Prince, posted on this site inJune of 2018, Prince writes: 

Cambridge was sent to GRPS as a gift from the DeVos’ in April of 2012. As a result of a private paid business led audit of GRPS, Cambridge Education revealed that the district needed to restructure. In August 2012, the audit done by Cambridge Education revealed the district needed to restructure to deliver a better education to students reflecting current student population and to save money. That December the school board approved superintendent Neal’s district restructure known as the transformation plan. It should be noted that the origin of this so called restructure plan was a private for-profit company and not the result of some personal educational philosophy and awareness of superintendent Neal.  Somehow this plan became her plan when the name was changed to the transformation plan. Almost immediately the newly named plan garnered the support of local conservative politicians. “State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons R Alto and Sen Dave Hildenbrand R-Lowell Twp. have written letters supporting the Grand Rapids superintendent and school board’s planned major overhaul of the district to improve achievement and finances.”

The FOIA document doesn’t indicate what exactly Cambridge Education was hired to do  in 2017, but based on the previous work they did, they played a major role in restructuring the GRPS and creating what the GREJ has identified as a two-tiered school system.

Basis Policy Research

We have a better idea of what Basis Policy Research did with the $90,000 they received from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation to provide a service for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. According the Basis Policy Research website, it states:

Adults without a high school diploma are more likely to face limited employment opportunities and a lifetime of poverty. Educators are looking for ways to identify students who are at risk of dropping out and match them with interventions that can get them back on track. Grand Rapids Public Schools recently partnered with Basis to develop a customized, student-level early warning system that uses dropout risk factors to predict the likelihood that a student will fail to graduate: the Opportunity Index.

Our partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools resulted in the Opportunity Index, which tracks both a student’s progress towards graduating on time as well as their likelihood of being ready for success after high school (often called “college and career readiness”). It focuses on early warning indicators of a student’s progress towards these dual goals using scorecards that pinpoint each student’s progress from kindergarten through high school. Educators and parents are using this tool to identify students for support and to be able to target resources so that more students graduate on time and prepared for success. In an extension of this work, we also partnered with the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation to facilitate conversations around these scorecards among educators, parents, and students.

When you go to click on the Opportunity Index link, it takes you to the DeVos-funded group Believe 2 Become. However, that link says, WE COULDN’T FIND THAT PAGE. 

In addition, Basis Policy Research has three offices around the country and one of them is in Grand Rapids, specifically at 1059 Wealthy SE, Grand Rapids. I have called their Grand Rapids office on several occasions in the past week and the phone just rings, without going to voicemail. What kind of a business doesn’t provide people with an opportunity to leave a message? I also sent them an e-mail more than 2 weeks ago and still have not received a response.

One of the main researchers with Basis Policy Research is David Stuit, who is originally from Grand Rapids. Besides working for Basis Policy Research, Stuit seems to be rather connected to the Charter School industry. Stuit has a page on the website of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an organization which has received millions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, both of which have made it a priority to fund Charter Schools and private schools.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has also spent a great deal of money lobbying Congress on education policy that would benefit the Charter School Industry. 

Tripod Surveys

Tripod crafts surveys for students in order to evaluate their teachers. Some of the staff with Tripod used to work for Cambridge Education and it appears they operate from the same ideological framework.

One teacher evaluation site we came across says: 

In a study recently released in the esteemed American Educational Research Journal (AERJ), and titled “What Can Student Perception Surveys Tell Us About Teaching? Empirically Testing the Underlying Structure of the Tripod Student Perception Survey,” researchers found that the Tripod’s factor structure did not “hold up.” That is, Tripod’s 7Cs (i.e., seven constructs including: Care, Confer, Captivate, Clarify, Consolidate, Challenge, Classroom Management; see more information about the 7Cs here) and the 36 items that are positioned within each of the 7Cs did not fit the 7C framework as theorized by instrument developer(s).

While this is just a snapshot of the three companies that were paid for by the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, it demonstrates that they prefer to use their money to fund entities that are antithetical to public schools and public education. The big question is, why does the Grand Rapids Public Schools agree to utilize the paid for resources from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation and what does this mean for the future of the GRPS?

Interview with Levi Rickert: New photo exhibit on Standing Rock being hosted at the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives

November 12, 2019

We recently did an interview with Levi Rickert, who is the Publisher/Editor of Native News Online. Like so many indigenous people, Levi went to Standing Rock in the fall of 2016, to be part of the resistance to an oil pipeline that would go through tribal land in North Dakota.

In the interview we talk about what inspired him to put together a photo exhibit, what kinds of things stood out to him while being at Standing Rock, how that resistance is connected to indigenous resistance to pipelines across the country, even Line 5 in Michigan, and why this history is so important to show and talk about.

The exhibit is now up at the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives and will be up until December 7. 

New Sanctuary Schools Toolkit provides school districts with an opportunity to practice solidarity with immigrant families

November 11, 2019

At the beginning of 2019 school year, the Detroit Public Schools formally adopted a school sanctuary policy. The policy essentially means that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) cannot come into Detroit Public Schools  to look for or to apprehend undocumented immigrants who may be parents or employees of the school district.

The formal Detroit Public School Sanctuary states in part:

School personnel must not allow any third party, including, but not limited to, officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs Border Protection (CBP), or federal immigration enforcement agencies or similar agencies access to a school site or District facility without a request submitted to the building site administrator and approved by the Office of the Superintendent and General Counsel.

Following this example, the group GR Rapid Response to ICE, has created a toolkit for those wanting to adopt similar policies in school districts in the Greater Grand Rapids area. 

The toolkit is designed for parents and other stakeholders in the community who want to take the initiative to get the school district where their children attend or where they live, to adopt a sanctuary school policy to: 1) take concrete action to support immigrant families who live in constant fear of government entities like ICE wanting to do them harm, and 2) to send a message ICE officials and other law enforcement agencies who collaborate with ICE in order to do harm to immigrant families.

The GR Rapid Response to ICE toolkit consists of ideas for parents and other community members, legal information, examples of what other school districts have done, what it means to be a sanctuary school and what else people can do when they encounter ICE agents in their community.

Here is a link to the Spanish version of the toolkit. You can access the toolkit here, but if you have questions for GR Rapid Response to ICE, message them on Facebook at Also, please let GR Rapid Response to ICE know if you have begun a campaign in your school district.

Grand Rapids for Education Justice responds to the Grand Rapids School Board with video

November 11, 2019

Last week, we reported on the Grand Rapids School Board meeting held on Monday, November 4. 

The group, Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ) had presented a series of issues back in October and wanted a response from the board within a month, which was last Monday’s school board meeting.

Several members of GREJ presented at last week’s school board meeting and you can read those comments at this link. However, the Grand Rapids School Board did not provide a response to the issues that GREJ had raised in October, neither in the agenda or in their comments at the end of the school board meeting. Several school board members did have something to say to the GREJ, even though those comments did not address the concerns raised, as you can see at the end of the taped school board meeting for November 4.

In a formal response to the Grand Rapids School Board’s failure to address the concerns brought by GREJ in October and in response to the comments from some school board members, GREJ provided this video response.

Betsy DeVos Watch: A Detroit educator responds to the Secretary of Education’s awful comment about Detroit Public Schools

November 7, 2019

Last week, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, gave a speech on the 2019 National Assessment of Education results. 

In that speech, DeVos referenced several school systems across the US. However, her most damning comments were directed at the public schools in Detroit.

What is worth noting is that Betsy DeVos, along with the rest of the DeVos family has contributed millions of dollars to Republican legislators, many of which have been attacking the Detroit Public Schools for decades and in 2016 were calling for the Detroit Public Schools to dissolve.

This is all well documented in a 2016 Michigan Campaign Finance Network article, Big Donors Have Been Big Players In Fight Over Detroit Public Schools Turnaround. 

In fact, the organization that Betsy DeVos created in 2001 to push her privatized education agenda, the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), was also calling for the Detroit Public Schools to dissolve. You can see from the graphic below that GLEP has also contributed significantly to (mostly) GOP legislators who are supporting what GLEP is calling for.

DeVos’s rhetoric on this issue is important, so we asked a Detroit educator, Kaitlin Popielarz, to weigh in on this issue. What follows is a clear deconstruction of what Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, had to say about Detroit Public Schools in her speech from October 30th.

Betsy DeVos: And then there’s Detroit.

The city’s academic struggles are infamous. Faced with the Motor City’s bankruptcy and consistently poor student achievement, the state government has been obliged to intervene and take control not once, but twice.

Kaitlin: In Detroit, we know that the state-takeover in 1999 and 2008 was due to austerity policies enacted by Governors Engler, Granholm, and Snyder, and backed by DeVos through venture philanthropy, paid-for legislation, and the corporatization of the public good. Detroit Public Schools were successful for decades before forced state intervention. In Detroit, we know that emergency management of Detroit through forced state takeover has only wreaked havoc on the stability of Detroit public schools and communities. DeVos has worked for decades to dismantle Detroit public schools and Detroit’s teachers unions to no avail. Detroit continues to resist through grassroots community mobilization and organization. Significantly, Detroit students continue to excel and achieve within academics, the arts, STEM, athletics, and service. Many young people in Detroit are also involved in grassroots organizations, such as Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan (DAYUM), in order to work toward intersectional social justice within education. 

Betsy DeVos: Still today, more than 90 percent of Detroit’s community schools’ eighth graders cannot read at grade level.

Kaitlin: In Detroit, we know that NAEP scores, along with other state and nation-wide high stakes standardized test results, are often conflated and misunderstood. Education “reformers” like DeVos utilize the NAEP scores to advocate for harmful education reform efforts that privatize and charterize public education and the public good. In Detroit and across the country, educators have critiqued the use of NAEP scores, in addition to other state and nation-wide high stakes standardized testing practices, which push harmful policies and reforms upon predominantly low-income Students of Color:£Proficient£.aspx 

Betsy DeVos: Things have gotten so bad there that students and families are suing for a right to read.

American students should not have to sue their way to literacy—to learning.

Kaitlin: The right to literacy lawsuit largely names and challenges many of the education “reforms” that DeVos has implemented for decades in Detroit and in Michigan. The right to literacy lawsuit is a direct critique of the education “reforms” that DeVos advocates and implements, which only further exacerbates systemic racial and socioeconomic segregation within public education. For more information on the literacy lawsuit and what it’s actually fighting for, please see these links: 

These are the kinds of well thought out, reasoned and well sourced responses we need when responding to the propaganda of the Neo-Liberal Education Model that DeVos and others are using on a daily basis.